He struggled against his bonds, pulling until his shoulders screamed in pain. Sweat poured from his brow as he stretched and pulled away from the pole, trying in vain to make a shadow under himself.
"Your struggles are futile, you must know that by now." The speaker was draped in white, a stunningly bright white.
The man strapped to the pole snarled. His eyes swept the room, desperately searching for a shadow to draw on, but every panel was illuminated with several bulbs so that the entire room was bathed in light; all shadows banished from their kingdom.
"You were an exceptionally beguiling quarry," The man in white strode around the room as a door opened in the wall and more white garbed people strode in purposefully. "I had despaired of us ever bringing you to justice, but at long last we have you."
The tied man howled in vain as he struggled against his bonds.
The footsteps whispered until there were thirteen surrounding the tied figure. The door slid closed, making the room round again. The figures glared at the figure, and he glared back; bared his teeth and continued to struggle against the heavy chain.
The white garbed leader smiled in grim satisfaction and raised his left hand.
"Time to go to the light, friend." With that light leaped form his hand and struck the chained man in a solid beam. One by one the other twelve raised their right hands and added solid bars of light to the now screaming man. The beams of light cut, disintegrated the struggling figure until only the chains and the echo of his screams remained.
"You can't be serious." Aila moaned and wrinkled her nose to accompany her statement.
"I told you not to ask."
"Yes, you did but...you can't be serious." She appeared to be on the verge of stamping her foot.
"Why not?" I sighed at her.
"He's weird. Look," her long hair spun in a fan as she stepped in front of me, forcing me to a halt. "I have nothing against foster kids, or even retards; which is why you're my best friend."
"Wait a second, I..." that was as far as I got.
"But, it's my sworn duty to tell you when I think you're making a mistake, and this is one of those times."
"Are you finished?" I stared at her.
"I," she smiled a bit and blushed, perhaps realizing she'd gone too far. "Could be?"
"Just so we're clear, there are no mistakes being made; I have no plans to say anything to him, I don't even know if he's gay much less interested. You asked who I had my eye on and I told you."
"Yeah, but," she tossed her hair and I walked past her. "Wait," she spluttered, catching up to me and matching my stride.
"No, no 'but'. Conversation is over."
"Danny," she sighed.
"Don't call me that." My name is Daniel, Daniel Whitson, and I hate being called Danny. Aila knows this, and it's the primary reason she says it. This is the time when I'd call her an annoying bitch, but I'm not dumb enough to say it out loud.
"Look, Dan, saying you have your eye on someone implies you plan to do something about it."
"No, it means I like looking at him."
"Okay, fine. He's pretty in a weird way." She shrugged.
I stopped and stared at her, annoyed. "I don't need your opinion to validate mine, Aila, and I really don't care if you think he's attractive or not. I just don't need your put downs when I answer your silly questions."
"What silly questions?" asked Aila's boyfriend, Joel, as he met us in the hallway. Joel was also my best friend, unless you asked Aila and she'd tell you she was my best friend. Whatever.
"She was asking me if you're a good kisser," I replied.
"I already know that, Danny." She smiled sweetly at me and Joel threw his hands up. "Never get in the middle of a cat fight." Suddenly we were both glaring at him.
"Um, hey, wow, look at the time will ya? We have to get to practice. Come on Daniel." Joel pecked Aila on the cheek and hooked my arm, dragging me down the hallway.
"What brought the claws out, bro?" Joel snickered.
"Do you really want to know?"
"On second thought, no."
We walked in companionable silence.
The locker room was noisy. Old hinges squeaked as they were worked for the zillionth time. Pushing and shoving was common, and even more so was coach yelling at them to stop, but I think he did it out of reflex mostly. He never actually did anything if they didn't stop. I think that was one reason the team was so bad.
Leavenworth High School was named for Colonel Henry Leavenworth of federal prison fame, a fact that was not lost on me on a daily basis. He was wounded at the Battle of Niagara during the French and Indian War and thus worthy of naming schools and prisons after him; if there was much difference between the two. Our school was in the suburbs, in the shadow of Niagara if you like.
Joel Montcalm and I played baseball for, ironically, the Leavenworth Indians. There was an effort going on to change the name, so far 'Pathetic' was leading amongst the student body. After changing and getting out onto the field, Joel and I started to toss the ball back and forth to warm up. Coach would run us through some drills, same thing every day actually. Stretching, wind sprints, then push-ups and jumping jacks. At long last we got to the good part, once we were out of breath and your arms felt like wet noodles.
The good part, of course, is scrimmage games. A mix of the starters and the guys on the bench pitch and hit so we get some actual experience playing. If anyone could hit the damn ball anyway. I frequently felt like I was slipping into a coma on my feet at third. I enjoyed the day less when coach didn't pitch; since our pitchers had issues putting the ball into hittable space.
Finally the practice was over and Joel and I were walking home.
"Okay, I can't take it, what was that little hissy fit about?"
"With Aila? She was asking who I was interested in." I paused, "Actually the term was who I had my eye on. I wonder if that was some weird old world thing? Putting an eye on someone literally to show interest? You think?"
He rolled his eyes at my lame attempt to change the subject. "Again? Did you tell her you were after me? She loves that. I swear she thinks there's a three way in her future or something."
"Seriously." Joel agreed.
"No, she just had to give her opinion, and of course it wasn't good."
"Bro, no one is good enough for you, you know that. If you find mister perfect some day, she'll make shit up about him. Seriously."
"No doubt. I can't understand why though, it's not like I'm her adorable little brother or something. She knows me through you as the totally hot but unattainable gay friend. That's why she settled for you, she actually wanted me"
He slugged my arm.
"Okay, fine, so not hot but...still, I don't act adorably or anything; not sure why she likes me so much."
"Who knows with Aila? She's a mystery. Hell, maybe she is dating me hoping she can watch us go at it. Kinda makes my skin crawl though."
"I hear ya, I don't want to see you naked either."
He hit me again.
We walked on, using sidewalks when available, but a lot of this area had none. Just large houses, not quite McMansions but sidewalks had largely been left out of the plans in these developments. Cars whizzed by hitting us with a blast of cool, welcome air. People were out to rake stuff off their lawns, dead leaves and twigs previously smothered and invisible under their blanket of snow. Something that was no doubt waiting to occupy my own weekend.
"So who was it?"
"Who do you have your eye on?"
"Oh, come on, not you too." I rolled my eyes at him and he shoved me.
"Come on, you told Aila, and it's nowhere near as bad to tell me!"
"It's no fun telling either of you." I smiled.
"You suck. No, really, you do."
"Okay, fine: Gideon."
"Gideon," Joel's brow furrowed as he thought for a moment. "Gideon the foster kid?"
"Ah, the mystery of someone not from around here?" Joel smiled as if he had me all figured out.
"No. Well, yes, I guess that's part of it." I tried to let it drop but Joel, nosy ass that he is, shoved me.
I raised an eyebrow at him.
"What's the other part of it?"
"I'm not telling you," I looked away to hide a blush.
"Whoa, whoa. Stop!" Joel grabbed my arm and twisted me around. "Is Daniel Whitson blushing?"
"No, asshole, I'm not!" I tried to break his grip and he latched on with his other hand.
"You are! You're blushing like a school girl!" He crowed, and then began to laugh. As he did his grip weakened on me.
"Fuck you," I muttered and broke his grip. I walked a little faster, the wind carrying Joel's snickers from behind me.
"So wait, wait," he jogged up beside me, "Are you gonna ask him out?"
"Sure, retard. I'm gonna go ask some guy I don't know if he wants to have a man date with me."
"Well, that's how the rest of us do it when we like someone. Except for the man date part."
"Joel, don't you have to go make out with Aila or something?"
"No," he threw an arm around my shoulders, "Aila won't be in the same room with me unless I shower. She thinks I stink."
"Oh come on, Danny," he teased and tried to get me in a headlock. Language deteriorated to pushes, shoves and silly laughing as he tried to put my nose near his armpits and I fought back. Finally we reached my house, and I was relieved that the conversation had been dropped. I'd have preferred it not be dropped because of Joel's smelly pits, but beggars can't be choosers.
"So bro, this weekend is the Spring Fling, we have to go. Queen Aila has decreed it," he smirked.
"Yeah, so? How we getting there?" The Spring Fling was held in nearby Niagara Falls every year, a celebration of the snow melting and warmer days. It was kind of like a fair or something, usually a band and food with vendors from in town and ones that traveled to various town activities wherever they could be found; hawking their wares from town to town.
"We're gonna hook a ride in with Aila's cousin, Brenda."
"Okay, I guess." I sighed. I knew what would happen, Aila and Joel would sneak off somewhere and examine each others bodies while I tried not to get bored out of my mind. Not that the festival wasn't fun, good for people watching, but asking me to go with them made it sound like we'd all hang out.
"Bro, we'll have fun, I promise."
The weekend arrived and with it the Spring Fling. The news carried stories about the preparations, the local bands that would be playing and this year there would be rides. Tons of vendors were already lining the streets and you could see the decorations the city had placed on light poles and strung across the street, anchored at each end by a street light or a power pole.
I showered and dressed in jeans and a nice polo, combed my hair and pulled on sneakers. My mother kissed me and slipped me twenty dollars in case I saw something I liked. Dad waved me to him and told me to call if there was any trouble, and palmed me another twenty.
My folks are good people, really. They both love me, they like to spoil me a little and think the other doesn't know about it. I checked that my phone was fully charged and headed out the door. I crossed the street and gave a quick knock on the door before entering.
"Hi Mr. And Mrs. Montcalm," I waved at Joel's parents who were parked in front of the television; and toed off my sneakers as per house rules.
"Hey there Danny, guys hitting the Spring Fling tonight huh?" his dad asked.
"Yeah, you guys gonna go this year?" I stopped in the entryway of their living room to speak to them. They were virtually the only people I grudgingly allowed to call me Danny in my presence, only because they'd been doing it for so many years it was impossible to break them of the habit.
"Tomorrow I think, will be a nice day to walk around. I think all the bands playing are for the young people tonight," his mom smiled.
"Come on, tell the truth. You guys are in the same boat my parents are, you're just happy you'll have the house to yourselves tonight." I smiled at them.
"Well, there is always that," his dad winked at his mom. I may throw up.
"Is he in his room?" I asked as I backed towards the stairs.
"Yes, probably primping. He spends more time in front of the mirror than his sister did." We shared a laugh over that and I broke off from the conversation to head upstairs. While my house was a ranch style, theirs was a split level and Joel's bedroom was on the second floor, along with his parents and the one his sister stayed in when she was home from college. I could hear Joel singing with the radio in his room and I barged in while he was tucking in his shirt.
"Danny, do these go together?" He turned to show me.
"I guess. Don't call me Danny." I flopped down on his bed as he considered himself in the mirror.
"I dunno, I'm gonna try another shirt."
"Jesus, are you sure you're not gay?" I asked.
"Dude, we kissed once. I thought that settled it?"
"Yeah, one lousy kiss and you chase the pussy!" I laughed at him.
"You had your chance to turn me, Whitson. I can't help it you can't kiss for shit," he smiled and returned his gaze to the mirror.
"You never should have told Aila, now she's always asking if you were any good. Like, ever." I burst out laughing at the fake hurt expression he put on.
"Bro, I was the best kiss you've ever had and since it was your first, you'd better remember it that way."
"I remember cutting my tongue on your braces," I snorted.
"You did not, fucker!" he laughed and looked back at the mirror. "Okay, I guess this is good. Let me grab my jacket and we're outta here."
We headed down stairs and said good night to his parents before putting our shoes on and leaving. We walked through his backyard, cutting across neighboring yards in order to get there faster.
The incident so often referred to as 'The Kiss' had been almost a lark. I had come out to Joel and he had been almost oddly receptive and sympathetic. One night when I was being pathetic and complaining about not getting dates and kisses like he did with his merry go round of girlfriends, he kissed me. Twice. He was right, I'll never forget it, more from shock than lust. After the lip-lock he had smirked at me and said, "Now you can't complain you've never been kissed. Your virginity will have to be with someone else though. I'm a good friend but I got limits!"
"What are you smiling about?" He asked, bumping me.
"Nothing," I replied. He'd been dating Aila Luce for about a year now, and she was as good a friend to me as he was. Thankfully she'd never tried to kiss me, though she did ask about that one kiss once in a while. Usually when Joel was preening.
"So, what do you like about Gideon? You ever talk to him?" Joel asked.
"No, not really. I mean, I've heard him answer questions in class, and he read that story in class we all had to do over the winter."
"Yeah, that sucked."
"But really he's just got this calm thing going. It's almost supernatural how relaxed and chill he is. Plus he has those dark curls and bedroom eyes."
"Do I have bedroom eyes?"
"Well, I don't know if that's a specific look, like something I can practice in the mirror or is it like something innate or whatever?"
"Bro, first anything that would make you look at yourself in the mirror more? Not telling you, but I don't think Gideon spends a lot of time staring at his refection."
"What you trying to say? I'm vain?" he smiled at me.
"You're so stuck on yourself! You know you are!" I laughed at him as he feigned hurt.
"I just have to make sure I look good for my lady," he sniffed.
"Oh, you look great. Oh, wait," I held up my hands. He stopped to look at me and I reached out slowly with my left hand, "Don't move. Just have to fix this."
I quickly mussed his hair and took off at a dead run for Aila's house. He shrieked a battle cry behind me-- if it's even possible to call a shriek a battle cry, and gave chase. By the time we got to Aila's house I was sweating. panting and out of breath, Joel wasn't any better. Aila was on her front porch and she looked pissed. Oh yeah, Joel was sweaty, of course she's pissed.
"Okay, should I be concerned that my boyfriend shows up with his best friend, breathing heavy, sweating and with his hair messed up?" she crossed her arms.
"He messed up my hair!" Joel cried out, pointing at me.
"That's what I'm talking about, Joel!" she tried to glare at me and dragged him inside to fix his hair.
The ride into Niagara Falls was uneventful, except that the three of us riding in with Brenda came as a surprise to Brenda; so we were packed pretty tightly into her little shit box. Her car was rusting out, the rear bumper was missing the plastic cover to it, her antenna was wire coat hanger-- and she had a sound system with a plasma display. Who says she has no priorities?
We got into downtown and had to find parking, and by the time we got out of the car I had managed to mess up Joel's hair again. Aila had slapped me, but it was worth it to see Joel trying to fix it in the parking lot. We disintegrated as a group almost immediately, Brenda and her friends going one way and Joel, Aila, and I going another.
"Hey, maybe Gideon will be here," Joel enthused. Aila frowned at him.
"He couldn't be a worse kisser than you," I retorted.
"Hey," Joel pretended to pout.
"It's okay baby, you'll get better. I'll give you lots of practice," and so saying Aila pulled him into an alcove and began kissing him in earnest. I'd seen them kiss before, of course. Joel described their first time in such detail that I could literally picture it, and that was more disturbing than I can articulate. I rolled my eyes at them and kept walking, knowing full well this was what they had planned anyway.
I walked through the festival, glancing at the junk for sale in the various booths. I played a few of the carnival style games and lost like any mark. I bought cotton candy and basically people watched. I wandered over to the bandstand and listened to a few local folks grind out some pop hits and a few of their own originals. The bandstand was near the edge of the festival, one of the first things you see if you approach from the northwest side of the park it was held in. We had come from the opposite side so it was the last thing I'd see.
I watched all the various types of people that had turned out for the festival, and maybe the Montcalms were onto something because the crowd was decidedly on the younger side. Not like me, but definitely not middle aged either. There were a lot of folks who were obviously here for date night; more than one guy was trying to win a prize at one of the booths. After a long cold winter people looked forward to the festival, one of the first big out door events in warmer weather.
The band began playing that 'Electric Slide' song and people were actually spreading out and trying to dance. I was nudged farther and farther towards the fringe until I was on the sidewalk. I watched folks stumble around and laugh as they tried to find the beat. Others who had figured it out were tying to help friends or dates get the idea. One couple had a poor guy with two left feet. He was smiling, laughing with his date as he tried and tried to get with the program, and she was laughing with him and trying to guide him.
I turned my head and saw a woman across the street walking away from me. She had a wavering stride, one that indicated she was drunk, very drunk. As she stumble – walked down the street she developed a serious list to port, which lasted until her head touched the wall then she'd straighten up for a few feet before listing again.
My gaze was drifting back towards the dancing couple when I heard a scream from the direction the woman had been heading. As my head whipped around, I saw her struggling with a figure that had her purse strap in hand. I started running towards her, one hand unconsciously checking for my cell phone. A fist shot out, and connected with her face, but she hung gamely onto her purse and continued a vocal alarm. She was probably drunk enough that she hadn't felt the blow like she would have sober, small blessing. Mere moments later light flashed off a blade and sunk into her arm.
She felt that, clearly, and finally let go of her purse. Her assailant ran into the alley way; I think she'd fought more than he'd anticipated.
She continued to wail drunkenly as I reached her. I caught her face in the light of the street lamp, blood ran from her nose and stained her dress as blood oozed from her arm.
"Are you okay?" I know, it's a dumb question, but I asked anyway. I moved her hand and got her to put pressure on the wound to stanch the bleeding.
"He stabbed me! Hit me! He has my purse! I have everything," she was cut off when she leaned over quickly and threw up on the side of the building. I looked down the alley and spotted the guy a half block away by now. I took off in a dead run. Something about hitting women and robbing them had my blood boiling and, obviously, stopped me from over-thinking this.
Or thinking at all.
I raced down the alley, gaining on the figure ahead of me. He was nearly to the mouth of the alley on the far end when the impossible happened. The shadows in the alley suddenly stretched, reaching out, inky, greedy fingers surrounding the fleeing figure. There was a strangled cry and then nothing, just darkness. It was almost as if the night had come alive and made a meal of the mugger.
This brought a small bit of sense into my brain and I slowed my approach, scanning the alley for whatever was going on. I looked for the light that should have come from the streetlight past the mouth of the alley, but the night had taken on a completeness I had never seen, it was even deeper than country dark. I walked slowly, the wails of the drunk woman at the other end of the alley a distant sound, almost as if the darkness were swallowing the vibrations. Light from behind me disappeared as it hit the darkness in front of me.
In a way, it seemed as if light were being devoured. I thought I could hear a muffled plea, a shriek of pure terror, something I hope I never hear again, and then silence. This was no ordinary silence though, it lay heavy as if all sound, even ambient noise had been consumed.
The shadows withdrew, like smoke under heavy wind and ahead of me, face down on the pavement was the assailant; the purse clutched in a gloved hand. The figure was still, eerily still. I glanced around as my lungs filled with air, preparing a cry for help when I saw a figure hurrying away, pausing under the streetlight and looked back over his shoulder; his gaze locked with mine.
Gideon. Stranger still, must have been my eyes; it almost appeared as if his eyes were smoking, like tendrils of shadow wafted off of them. He turned away from me and disappeared into the alley. I ran forward, calling out to him, but it was no use. He'd vanished.
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